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July 23, 2010

Mean Girls // Liana Liu

Up until six months ago, I had never read anything by Muriel Spark. I had heard of her, of course, and thought I knew a couple of things about her. For example, I knew she was from Australia (wrong). And I knew she was a historical romance novelist (wrong, wrong). Where did I get these ideas from? I cannot remember. Probably from guessing. I am an inveterate guesser which might be why I get lost ALL THE TIME. But that is beside the point. Let us talk about Muriel Spark!

spark.jpgThe first Muriel Spark book I read was Loitering With Intent, about a girl writing a novel who finds that the events in her life begin conforming to the events in her book. Delightfully meta, but not my favorite. A couple months later I read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which was totally my favorite. Crazy ladies, crazy girls, crazy talk! Oh, I loved it! The reason why I thought Muriel Spark was a romance novelist was probably because I "guessed" it based on the title The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Come on, you know that sounds like a romance novel. But it totally isn't! In fact, it's the opposite! I especially admire the physical character descriptions and the way Spark uses repetition to build the story. Plus, crazy talk!

Most recently, I read The Driver's Seat which may be my favorite of the three because it is so out of control. Fantastically vicious. Amazingly terrifying. And strangely poignant. The story focuses on Lise, a woman who seems deranged. But her odd behavior is presented without comment, forcing this reader into a state of paranoia; as I read I was constantly asking myself, Is this weird? Or am I the one being weird? It was just like the first date I ever went on: I was fifteen (late bloomer, obviously), we were at the mall, we watched a scary movie, his popcorn-greased hand came upon my knee and I froze. Oh goodness, the anxiety! That's how I felt during all 107 pages of The Driver's Seat.

To give you a taste, here's how it starts:

'And the material doesn't stain,' the salesgirl says.
'Doesn't stain?'
'It's the new fabric,' the salesgirl says. 'Specially treated. Won't mark. If you spill like a bit of ice-cream or a drop of coffee, like, down the front of this dress it won't hold the stain.'
The customer, a young woman, is suddenly tearing at the fastener at the neck, pulling at the zip of the dress. She is saying, 'Get this thing off me. Off me, at once.'

Don't you want to read more? Read more.

migrainechick/flickr

July 19, 2010

Mister Green: Internalizing Environmentalism

by Amir Hussain

In the digital sci-fi short Mister Green (2009), a discouraged undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Global Warming, Mason Park (Tim Kang), is biochemically transformed to take in energy directly from the sun just like a plant. The fifteen-minute film is director Greg Pak's insightful visualization of a near future where the environment as we know it has buckled under the strain of global climate change.

mistergreen1.jpg In the film, Dr. Gloria Holtzer (Betty Gilpin), a former graduate school colleague of Mason's and the woman behind green technology group Greenpoint Industries, surreptitiously sprinkles a mysterious potion on Mason. The next morning he awakens understandably overcome. He fears the radical experiment he has become an unwitting subject of. He tracks Gloria down and demands an answer to his worry: "What did you do to me?"

"You're wilting," Gloria tells him, and hands him a jug of water. "The process requires both CO2 and H2O," she continues. "It's about reducing the individual's carbon footprint to zero. End the consumption of meat in America and you reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by three hundred billion tons. Eliminate the need to heat and cool homes and you knock out twenty percent of greenhouse gases in the United Sates."

Mister Green creatively develops one possible solution to global climate change. By entirely eliminating their intake of agriculturally-produced foods, especially animal products--the UN reports that meat production accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions--the plant-infused characters do not merely eat lower on the so-called food chain but they literally absorb the Sun's direct light and convert it into energy through the complex and rewarding process of photosynthesis.

It's important to note that the film's success does not arise from its tapping into some kind of collective fear that we might be infused with plant fibers in the close future (it is a sci-fi film after all). Instead, I believe the film conveys a fruitful (no pun intended) environmental message because it repositions and reimagines the physical value and integrity of plant life.

We have been debating the intelligence of animals for such an unreasonably long time--a pig, they say, is more intelligent than a dog (and, in my humble opinion, cuter)--that we have forgotten to turn our attention to a much more critical matter: What can they teach us about how to live (sustainably)? It is a similar case with the plant life around us. Plants know a life far different from any of our lives, but importantly, they know it as they have lived it for billions of years. In no uncertain terms, plants are the most efficient group of species on the planet. It's a shame we don't express more respect and awe for the beings that are the integral link between sunlight and everything we do, or can do (without plants, we wouldn't have the energy to do anything). The trouble is that few people with only human interests and concerns in mind consider that fascinating fact.

***
Mister Green is part of a collection of films jointly called FUTURESTATES commissioned by the Independent Television Service that "asked 11 renowned and up-and-coming filmmakers to take the current state of affairs in the United States, and extrapolate them into stories of the nation in the not-so-distant future." (You can view Mister Green and all other episodes at futurestates.tv.)

I was first introduced to the FUTURESTATES series in late spring with Director Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag, a short film which follows a plastic bag on a first-person "existential journey" from its creation until it ends up in the North Pacific Ocean "trash vortex." Plastic Bag anthropomorphizes a plastic bag--a commonly employed method that aims to extend the circle of compassion to nonhuman entities--and it successfully elicits viewer participation to consider the lifespan of a superfluous, everyday object. But I see Pak's Mister Green working in a different way to elicit viewer involvement.

Mister Green overtly poses an ethical dilemma: If we had the capacity to engineer our bodies to accept energy directly from the sun, should we do it? That's definitely something worth considering, but to get at what strikes me most we need to sidestep the overtly expressed dilemma and look at the film's depiction of the transformative change in Mason, because the film takes place in a period where the ecosystem has already collapsed (Mason tells us Canal Street in New York City is underwater).

As they stand to face the sun's rays, you can see the changed characters in the film express a deep, recognizable--dare I say, side-splitting--joy. The doom of environmental collapse is allayed by harnessing the powers of photosynthesis. The solution is simultaneous return and advancement. It is expressed literally as a scientific fusion of plant and human body. In an understatement of form, the human grows no plant-like appendages; nor does a stalk shoot out from the neck. Metaphorically speaking, Mason internalizes the change he seeks to create. In a display of solidarity with plants, Mason bears a yellow flower on his suit's breast pocket.

Pak, who wrote, directed, and edited the film, echoes these sentiments as he speaks about the film's origins: "Mister Green was born from the compulsion to explore how incredibly hard it is to genuinely change on an individual level--and to consider just how extreme that change might have to be in order to confront the massive environmental transformations that threaten the world. . . . With Mister Green, I gave myself the challenge of telling a different kind of story to explore that loaded promise of actually becoming the change we were waiting for."

In the depicted world's only successful attempt to alleviate human strain on the planet--Mason is unable to do so working for years in the government's global warming program and we learn the nation's people have not risen up to demand it of the government--we see that we ourselves must transform. I do not interpret this as a case against the valuable systems approach to resisting environmental destruction but rather as a call to also internalize that resistance.

***
Upon realizing the inevitable reality that he is changing, Mason follows Gloria to an open field where she convinces him to take off his shoes and walk into the bright field with her.

"C'mon Mason. When was the last time you ran barefoot through the grass?" Gloria pushes.

"I don't want to. I don't want to lose myself."

"Yes . . . you do."

The camera zooms in on Mason's bare feet, then focuses on his hand as he touches a tall stalk of grass.

"That's it. You're becoming a part of everything now. And, in another few weeks, you'll be able to grow roots, if you want . . . You said we have to make you."

Image Credit:
Movie still from Mister Green (2009)

July 15, 2010

Is the government getting ready to give us all space stations? // Landrew Kentmore

Here's a story: a guy is looking for a place to sit down and hang out. There are a bunch of empty chairs all over the place, but they're not peaceful enough because there are loud people sitting in other chairs nearby.

He's getting ready to give up but then he sees the chair he wants--it's floating way out in space! So he goes to sit down in it but then NASA is like, "Oh wait, sir, that chairs reserved for astronauts."

space1.png

There's a lot of super-complicated symbolism in this story. The guy who's looking for a chair symbolizes guys who want to find a cool new place to live. The loud people in chairs symbolize loud people in general who may or may not be sitting in chairs. And the chair in space stands for space stations, which normal, non-astronaut people are not allowed in.

But that might be about to change! I think that the government might be getting ready to give us all space stations! Here's my proof:

1. A lot of devices with screens: In all sci fi movies, what do all of the space ships have in common? There are a ton of complicated screens! If you took a guy from the fifties and put him in front of all of those screens, he would probably start crying and say, "Ah jeez, fellas! This is too much! I gotta go back to the malt shop before my head melts!" But now, people have a million screens around them every day, from TVs to cell phones to electronic book things, we might as well be astronauts. Maybe the government planned it that way so we're ready when they start giving away space stations!

2. Glow stars: Glow stars are fake stars that you glue to the ceiling. But who would make the fake version of a real thing that is right outside? Maybe the government paid the person who invented glow stars because they wanted people getting used to the idea of being really close to stars!

space2.png

3. Pot Holes: Maybe bad pot holes are caused by bad weather... or maybe the government is secretly going out and making them so that we can be ready for the bumpy space ride to our new space stations!

4. Normal houses are getting really cheap: Last week, my roommate, Greg, and his girlfriend were looking in the real estate section of the paper. They kept saying "it's a buyer's market." At first, I thought, "Oh god! First, they wouldn't shut up about the 'farmer's market.' Now it's going to be 'the buyer's market.'" But it turns out that they were actually talking about how houses were cheap. Now, think about gaming consoles - what happens when a new system comes out? They start selling the old ones for cheap!

space4.png

I don't know when the government is going to give us all space stations. It could take a while. It might never happen and I might be just imagining that all of this stuff is a government conspiracy (like that time I thought bouncier shoes meant they would start finally manufacturing rocket sneakers, which they still might do eventually...). But even though you never know, you should keep space stations in mind. Like, if you're shopping for furniture, consider, "how would that furniture look... in space?"

July 14, 2010

Space Baby, Is the Future Getting Closer? // J. Lee Morsell

(Space Baby hasn't learned to talk.)
1984: Oceania, Every Thought 'Tis for Thee
George Orwell's 1949 novel envisioned a distant dystopian future (or a veiled present?) in 1984 (1948?) when the only permissible pleasure is "a boot stamping on a human face," and the government promotes Newspeak, a new version of English devoid of words to express freedom and rebellion.

jupiter.jpgA film adaptation released in the year 1984 featured a national anthem for the totalitarian empire of Oceania, of which both the United Kingdom and the United States were part. The anthem, "Oceania, 'Tis for Thee," contains the refrain

Oceania, Oceania, Oceania, 'tis for thee
Every thing, every thought, 'tis for thee


This nationalistic devotion would seem to refer to Adolf Hitler's command that Germans "every hour, every day, think only of Germany."

During the third quarter of the January 1984 Superbowl, Apple ran its famous 1984-themed ad, in which a woman chased by riot police runs into a hall where grey masses watch a screen on which a Big Brother-like figure advocates uniformity of thought. She throws a hammer, and the screen explodes in light. A voice-over tells us, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."

The personal computer certainly empowers dynamic discourse in a way that the one-way television screen does not; and yet, like Orwell's transceivers that allow Big Brother to watch you while you watch TV, the personal computer also makes us vulnerable to peeping intruders.

1999: Why does everybody have a personal computer?
A song by Prince, released in 1982:

They say two thousand zero zero party over,
Ooops out of time
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1999 . . .

Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?


After performing this song on New Year's Eve 1999, he vowed never to play it again. But eight years later he did, and now it's back in his repertoire.

("What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more?'" -Nietzsche, The Gay Science)

2001: Dunh-dunh-dunh....DUNH-DUNH! (rumble) BombBom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom.
In 1968, Stanley Kubrick released his classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which grew out of Arthur C. Clarke's 1948 short story "The Sentinel." Humans discover a great black monolith buried beneath the surface of the moon, beaming a powerful radio signal, which astronauts follow to Jupiter.

The dramatic theme song, Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, combined with copious birth imagery (spaceship corridors like fallopian tubes, an astronaut floating helplessly with a severed oxygen cable like an umbilical cord, sperm ships approaching egg planets), emphasizes a Nietzschean subtext of humanity's development from ape to human to superhuman, with each transition a traumatic birth.

If the full apocalypse is the unveiling of the face of God, the apocalyptic moment of 2001 would be the unveiling of what humanity might become: our hero battles a rebellious computer, is immersed in dreamlike projections of his own mind, and then transforms at the end of the movie into the Space Baby (or "Star-Child"): a fetus floating in the void with a view of distant earth. This is the barest glimpse of the future, of course--we want to know how Space Baby will grow. But it is a revelatory glimpse of a beginning.

There is a visual pun here. Nietzsche disdained otherworldly heaven as a religious rejection of life. He urged his readers to "remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!"

Space Baby, the young Übermensch that Nietzsche would make the "meaning of the earth," is otherworldly in that he floats somewhere near Jupiter. Is this sly humor or is it an adaptation of Nietzsche's dream for the space age, when the this-worldly becomes vaster and more mysterious than this one planet?

The ambiguity of register is shared by Strauss's tone poem. The earnest bombast with which the music begins could easily escalate into a romantic hero song, like Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. It's hard to take earnest bombast seriously these days, and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra has been quoted in parody many times since it was popularized by 2001. But even back in 1896, Strauss seems to have intended a mixed register: the heroic theme of growth and overcoming ends in two conflicting keys, without resolution.

When we reached the actual year 2001, we were transformed not by a monolith on the moon but by the destruction of monoliths in New York: the 9/11 attacks. Instead of being reborn in space, we entered the weird rhetorical regime of "homeland security," "the axis of evil," the "Patriot Act," "freedom fries" and the perpetual "war on terror." It felt both futuristic (because we are accustomed to stories of the future as dystopia) and atavistic, because these crude propagandistic terms so resembled Orwell's now-ancient 1984. As something contemporary, it was hard to accept these terms as actual political speech: they'd have gone down easier in a parody remake of that Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.

2012: Time for miracles?
2012: an apocalyptic film released in 2009. In supposed fulfillment of an ancient Mayan prophecy, neutrinos from a solar flare heat the earth's core to boiling over. Massive earthquakes and megatsunamis wreak havoc through disaster-porn computer graphics. One trailer claims that the Mayans were "mankind's first civilization," a goofy erasure of ancient Egypt. The schmaltzy ending theme song is "Time for Miracles" by Adam Lambert. As the world falls spectacularly, hopelessly apart, Lambert sings,

This aching heart ain't broken yet
Oh God I wish I could make you see . . .
Maybe it's time for miracles . . .
No I ain't giving up on us . . .
Maybe it's time for miracles.


2010: "And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea." (Revelation 16:3)
As British Petroleum has made one futile attempt after another to plug the gusher that nobody knows how to stop, many have turned to God. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal designated June 27 a Statewide Day of Prayer that God will deliver us from this catastrophe. Louisiana state senator Robert Adley explained, "Thus far the efforts made by mortals to try to solve the crisis have been to no avail. It is clearly time for a miracle."

Last night I dreamed that the whole sweep of the Gulf Stream was carrying the oil north, and it was raining oil in Europe. This morning I checked the news and saw that indeed the oil is getting captured by the Gulf's Loop Current and shot through the Straits of Florida into the Gulf Stream.

Then I found reference to Gustav Meyrink's 1903 novella "Petroleum, Petroleum," which I quote not to assert any fact but just to add, in a paranoid manner, to a genealogy of memes, or at least a chain of coincidences. In the novella, a series of explosions sends massive oil reserves gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. One fictional consultant warns, in the midst of this crisis, that "If the oil continues to spill as it does, it will have covered the oceans of the world in twenty-seven to twenty-nine weeks and there will be no more rains, ever, as water can not evaporate anymore. At best, it will rain petroleum."

Image Credit:
Mission to Jupiter image courtesy of NASA

Issue 7 Reading Period Open

Attention writers and readers: We are now accepting poetry, fiction, and nonfiction submissions for our Issue 7 reading period, July 15 to November 15, 2010. This year we have transitioned to an online-only submission policy: submit your work via Submishmash. This will streamline our reading process and expedite responses to our prospective contributors.

Work sent to us via email or postal mail will be discarded or recycled unread, unless you've queried us in advance and been granted an exception to this rule. If you have submitted work to us via email or postal mail between our reading periods, please resubmit via Submishmash to ensure your work is read. Visit our Submit page for complete guidelines.

Our annual contest will be announced in September; check the website for updates, or follow us on Twitter.

We look forward to reading your work!

July 13, 2010

Review: The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer

bridge_cover_235.jpg602 pp., Knopf, $26.95

by Sally Franson
A lot of fuss has been made about the length of Julie Orringer's debut novel, The Invisible Bridge. Coming in at a whopping 602 pages, this sweeping historical epic, which has earned itself references to Tolstoy and Eliot, isn't exactly the stuff that summer vacations are made of.

When I cracked the cover and saw that the story begins in 1937 Hungary, I groaned. Eastern Europe, on the cusp of World War II? Not quite beach-blanket material.

But the miracle of Orringer's novel, on which she worked for seven years following her lauded story collection, How To Breathe Underwater, is that it manages to be both weighty and riveting. As Andras Lévi, an architectural student, prepares to leave Budapest for a scholarship in Paris, he is entrusted with a letter to one Madame Morgenstern, a mysterious ballet teacher nine years Andras' senior who harbors a hidden past. The two Hungarians strike up a passionate and complicated relationship, which is made even more fraught by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Orringer subtly weaves the pivotal events of the time (Kristallnacht, the Sudetenland's annexation) into her narrative, and one cannot help but carry a sense of doom. France passes xenophobic laws that cause Andras' visa to be revoked, and he must return to Budapest for its renewal. Klara travels with him and the two are married, yet marital bliss remains out of grasp. Andras, along with his two brothers, is immediately drafted into the Hungarian work force and subjected to hard labor for months at a time in Transylvania, Carpathia, and the Ukraine. Subjected to horrific conditions and brutalizing commanders, only the thought of his family keeps Andras sane. Hungary's leadership attempts to stave off Hitler's "final solution," but succeed for only so long. Ghettos are formed, boxcar trains appear, and whispers of work camps drift in from the frozen tundras of Mitteleuropa.

Orringer, armed with her formidable research and natural empathy, deftly paints an accurate portrait of the creeping insidiousness of Hitler's end game, and through the eyes of Andras and his family one experiences the desperate hope of most Europeans that war can be avoided and life returned to normal. The novel greatly improves as it goes on; though the years in Paris are romantic and sumptuous, the love story tends toward the melodramatic and cannot compare to the harshly compelling tribulations of wartime.

The best of World War II fiction (Ursula Hegi's Stones From The River comes to mind) opens a door to a reality that in its horror is unimaginable to those of us from younger generations. "In the end, what astonished [Andras] most was not the vastness of it all - that was impossible to take in," Orringer writes. Yet through her masterful storytelling, one glimpses the vastness of Europe's suffering through this particular suffering, and this particular family. Cities fall, families perish, yet life goes on. And an epilogue set in present-day New York lends a measure of redemption to an otherwise heartbreaking ending.

The idea for The Invisible Bridge emerged from Orringer's own family history: her grandfather was an architecture student at the École Spéciale and worked in the Hungarian labor army. In writing this book she has done a great service to both her family and the rest of us. ("This is what we have lost, this is what is left, what we have to live with now.") It is a powerful reminder of the not-so-distant past, and a meditation on the importance of history, lest it repeat itself.

July 8, 2010

Health and Technology: Ears // Landrew Kentmore

A long time ago, movies didn't have noise and music sounded weird and crackly because it out came out of giant horn-shaped things on top of record players. This might have been cool for actors who were born without tongues or people whose parents played trumpets so that horn-shaped things remind them of their childhood, but for everyone else, it was pretty lame.

Luckily, scientists invented a lot of technology with better sound. With tons of awesome speakers and headphones, music and movies are louder than ever. You might think that, with all of this awesome stuff, you should turn the volume all the way up, all of the time. But be careful, because too much sound can hurt your ears!

ears1.png

You might be thinking, "But hey, wait a minute! Ears love noise! How can it be bad for them?" It's just like dogs and chocolate. If your roommate's girlfriend brings over her dog and you're watching TV and eating chocolate bars, the dog is going to look at you like it wants some chocolate. If you give the dog some chocolate, it will gladly eat it, but then your roommate and his girlfriend will freak out and take the dog to the animal ER to get its stomach pumped because dogs are really allergic to chocolate, which you were supposed to know because everyone suddenly expects you to be a dog expert. After that your roommate and his girlfriend will probably take the dog to weird, new-aged dog therapy for, like, five years so that it can "get over the traumatic experience." My point is, it might be healthier not to give ears what they want.

ears2.png

Now, you're probably saying, "Well if hearing awesome music and movies is wrong, then I don't want to be right! I'd rather kill my ears with awesome stuff than save them for lame stuff!" Well, you might be taking your ears for granted. What if you listen to too much loud music and everything sounds quieter, so you think everyone is whispering? You might get paranoid and think that people are telling secrets about you all the time. Also, you might get your hopes up because you'll think that girls are always whispering sexy secrets to you, even if they're saying things like, "Does this bus go downtown?" or "I can help you at this register, sir."

So to save your ears, the best thing to do is cut down on the loud stuff you listen to. Here are two good ways to do this:

1. Connect wires to some ear plugs so that out of the corner of your eyes they look like ear buds. Then put them in the same place as your ear buds, so if you're leaving in a rush and not looking, there's a 50/50 chance you'll grab the ear plugs. Then, you'll only be hurting your ears half of the time!
2. Try to get a bit less into music and a bit more into sounds around your room. For example, rather than listening to heavy metal, you could listen to the noise the ceiling fan makes and head bang to that!
3. Mute movies when there's an explosion scene. (To get the full excitement of the scene, try shaking your chair or crying.

Hopefully, in the future, none of this will even be an issue, because scientists will invent a way to have music beamed directly to your brain, which would be awesome (unless you accidentally intercept someone's books on tape).

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July 6, 2010

Review: Bird Any Damn Kind, by Lucas Farrell

90 pp., Caketrain Press, $8

by Feng Sun Chen
The first thing I noticed about Lucas Farrell's Bird Any Damn Kind was the cover. It is rarely appropriate to judge a book by its cover, as the saying goes, but this book lives up to its beautiful and surreal front image by Louisa Conrad.

cover.birdanydamn.hires.jpgThe image depicts a strangely plastic, dusky landscape, over which a translucent silhouette of a spider-human hybrid sits looming. It sounds creepy, but it's not. It's pretty. Like the image, Farrell's poetry evokes a sense of dread, but against a backdrop of luminescence: "I can hardly move or breathe in this light / our shadows laugh [. . . ] meet me in the traumatic / smoke-lounge of night / let us consent to nearly nothing / the dry heaving stars". Caketrain, by the way, Farrell's publisher, puts out chapbooks that are exquisitely designed. (I've never wanted to hang a book on my wall until Caketrain).

Bird Any Damn Kind is Farrell's most recent chapbook. He is also the author of Blue-Collar Sun (alice blue books) and has been published extensively in both print and online journals including Alice Blue, Jubilat, Diagram, & Cannibal. The community of journals he is included in does suggest subscription to a certain style of writing. Journals like Jubilat and Diagram publish contemporary poetry that I would call neo-surrealism or impressionism. Farrell's chapbook is a finalist in Caketrain's chapbook contest, and came out alongside Ben Mirov's Ghost Machine, which is a series of minimalist poems that explore the "ghosthood" of modern grief. While Farrell's chapbook is not minimalist, he shares with Mirov a common sense of sublime alienation. These writers do not lament the paradoxical nature of modern life, which is both fragmented and intensely connected, but love the dissociated collage. Disparate ideas or images are juxtaposed not to convey anxiety, but to convey a sort of strange ecstasy.

In Bird Any Damn Kind, the luminescence of the human world thrown into natural and artificial settings blind the reader: "You, me, our awesome appliances. / I'd like to use that toothbrush, please, / the one with your face attached. / In the orchard of beloved green apples, there is the relinquishing of the city-body, city-self". These very lines were the instigator of my impulse-buy. I related to the feeling of huge alienation and the cut-up, cubist feeling of being in love. Farrell takes us into the "many woods of grief", where the moon is "divided into thirds", is "a love-triangle dipped in a flour bin". The rhythm of these poems is urgent, sick with arrhythmia. Farrell does not need fancy words or esoteric lingo to impress a reader. He reminds me of Larissa Szporluk in the dreamlike landscapes portrayed in his work, but he is more sympathetic and colloquial, less removed, closer to the dirt: "The stars are hemorrhaging forth women. / They are teaching us how to pain [ . . . ] The thighs of my faith are red like the backs of chickeneyes. I lick the flat soda of god" (45). These quotes illustrate what I was talking about earlier when I referred to what I call "dissociated collage". By connecting things that do not have any obvious kinship, he creates a dissociated state in the reader's mind, but the images and word choices themselves harmonize to create a consistent emotional landscape. The logic lies in emotional intuition rather than physical laws. His work is concerned with the modern landscape yet is saturated with pastoral imagery. The latter fact makes him unique among most contemporary poets. I might compare him to the mature Dean Young (surprising twists), mixed with some Brigit Pegeen Kelly (obsessive focus on a few objects of nature).

Birds feature throughout the chapbook, which comprises a mere 75 pages including dividers, yet this little collection took me over a week to finish. The slow pacing of my relationship with BADK was not due to difficulty or boredom but due to its richness. I kept reading and reading individual poems and series of poems because each piece is packed with layers of metaphor and meaning. They can seem obscure at first, but Farrell manages to convey messages quite clearly through a complex fugue of repeating images and motifs. There is a lot of poetry out there that exploits absurdity and surprising language that never really goes anywhere, but Farrell's poetic leaps follow a determined path. Among the most prominent themes are the illusory nature of memory, the projection of self and meaning in human interaction, and the osmosis between inner and outer environments. The birds of language, of "Throats and Chimes" seem to fly free, but only within a projected sky "until all, from below, theaters into one" (58).

July 2, 2010

Being Awesome // Liana Liu

Down the street from where I live, there's this man that hands out fliers. Actually, there is a lot of fliering all around the neighborhood as this is a high-foot-traffic area (annoying! I hate people!), but this guy deserves special notice.

shero.jpgFirst, I must reveal that he's not fliering for just anything: he's fliering for a "gentleman's club." Second, part of the reason I've noticed him, probably, is that his job requires him to wear a yellow vest emblazoned with the name of said "gentleman's club." However! What I find most striking about this guy is his dedication to both his job and himself.

Let me explain. Because of the nature of the business he represents, this guy must only deliver his wares to gentlemen (heh). While most flier-dispensing folk stand numbly on the corner, fluttering brochures and coupons and circulars, hopelessly hoping that someone, anyone, will take the meekly offered item, this guy is pro-active and selective about his approach. Say the sidewalk is crowded with soccer mom, a pair of business ladies, a suited man, and a teenage girl. Bam! Flier Guy has pushed his way right to that suited man and is handing him his card (heh). I've seen this happen time and time again, and each time it remains impressive.

But what's more, my sister and I have both been catcalled by Flier Guy. Separately, we have been greeted with a "Heeeeeeeeey." And separately, we have been impressed that while this guy has got every man covered (heh) in Flier (heh--yes, I'm not sure what I'm laughing about anymore either), he still manages to keep his own interests covered. Yes, we were so impressed that we had a conversation about Flier Guy, to acknowledge both his fliering skill as well as his romantic moves. That, my friends, is a man living life to the fullest.

And what does this have to do with books? Well, have you ever read any Shero fiction? Like, girl-hero young-adult stuff? About girls with swords and magic powers vanquishing evil and saving kingdoms? No? Well, you should. Like this guy, it's awesome. I like to think of those books as the anti-Twilight; although I have neither read any of the books or seen any of the movies, I am comfortable in my superiority to state that yes, these books are the anti-Twilight. In the best pre-marital sex with multiple partners (there's love there, don't judge) and girls kicking ass kind of way! Some authors to check out: Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Sherwood Smith. So yeah, do it. Live life to the fullest! Just like Flier Guy.

Image Credit:
photo by amahra58/flickr

July 1, 2010

Technology for Driving: Radar Detectors // Landrew Kentmore

I learned something new last weekend: if you drive really fast and then start to tap the breaks and the gas to make your car jump like it's got hydraulics, that's dangerous enough to get pulled over by a police officer.

And he won't even care if you tell him you were listening to a sweet hip-hop song when you were doing it. This is because police officers have to listen to crackly voices on the radio, so they don't understand what it's like to drive with music playing. Luckily, to avoid getting tickets, there is a piece of technology that tells you when police cars are around: the radar detector.

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Radar detectors are devices that sit in your windshield and beep if there's a cop around, sort of like those metal detector things that old guys use at the beach to find treasure or old beer cans. One difference is that, with metal detectors, when they start beeping, you want to speed up and find what's buried in the sand. With radar detectors, you want to slow down to keep the money in your bank account. Also, with metal detectors, you want to start digging if it beeps really fast. With radar detectors, it might look suspicious to the policeman if you stop and suddenly start digging.

My roommate, Greg, claims that he doesn't need a radar detector. He says that the only instruments he needs to avoid speeding tickets are "a clear view of the speedometer and peace of mind." This might sound like a good alternative to a radar detector, but the truth is that it won't work for everyone. People like Greg are always driving to do boring stuff like buy organic milk or watch a guy play a banjo in a used bookstore, so of course they're not going to be in a rush. For the rest of us with cool interests, radar detectors can be great tools!

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The biggest problem with radar detectors is they only detect police cars. If I were in charge of the radar detector companies, I'd make a radar detector help you find all sorts of stuff. Here are a few ideas:

- Those awesome cars that give away free energy drinks
- Vending machines where a guy paid but then his candy bar got stuck so the next person can totally get a two-for-the-price-of-one deal
- Stuff that lightning has struck before (since it never strikes the same place twice, you would know where to go for safety in the next storm!)
- Cargo shorts that are on sale
- Girls that are into thrifty guys who wear cargo shorts

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But still, even the way they are now, radar detectors are pretty great for anyone who has to get somewhere quick and can't afford to pay tons of speeding tickets. The only problem would be if you always dream about driving. Think about it: you're driving along when all of a sudden there's all this beeping. You think it's the alarm clock so you let go of the wheel, close your eyes, and get ready for the dream to be over, but instead of "waking up" you go flying by a cop with no hands on the wheel and your eyes closed.

Then again, if you're constantly dreaming about driving, maybe you have some stuff you need to work out.